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Michael Emerson on the Lost Epilogue and the End of Benjamin Linus

Lost may have ended two and a half months ago, but with last week’s leak of the twelve-minute epilogue and the impending August 24 release of the final season on DVD, the series is popping up in conversations and Twitter feeds once again. As we usually do when Lost reenters our radar screen, we turned to Michael Emerson, who recently received his fourth Emmy nomination for his work on the series as Benjamin Linus. He spoke to us about his reaction to the finale, what’s next for his career, and why he thinks the epilogue is a “very small, sweet dessert.”

How is life off the island?
I’m happy to say that I’m on my preferred island of Manhattan. It’s a little more crowded than that other island, but it’s saner.

What’s it like to have Lost be a thing of the past?
Well it hasn’t really soaked in because there’s still so much Lost business afoot. What I had forgotten was that there were these award shows and things that keep the idea of it alive for a while longer and keep us together as a cast.

So you don’t feel like you’re done with this experience yet?
Not quite. It’s about this time of year that I start packing to go back to Hawaii, so come the end of this month it is going to dawn on me that I’m not going back there, and that I don’t really have any work on the horizon so I’d better get busy.

So right now you’re sort of in a holding pattern?
I am, it’s really quite dull. I’m just sitting around saying no to lots of things. I think it’s important to choose carefully the next thing after the big thing. People will be watching, they’ll want to see, “Oh what’s Ben Linus doing now?” I want for those people that follow what I do — God help them — I want it to be a pleasant surprise worth their time and attention.

Are there any prospective projects you can discuss?
Well I have some stuff that’s in the can already. I’m proud of my work in the PBS series that’s coming up in October called God in America. It’s a show about the origins of religious movements in North America. I get to play John Winthrop, who was a fanatical Puritan leader of the Plymouth Bay colony, so that was good fun.

What’s the latest on setting up a project with Terry O’Quinn?
God only knows if anything will come of it because you know how these things are here. But I think we’ve planted the seed with some people and we’ll see if anything comes of it. It would be a ways off; it’s not like cameras are rolling or anything.

What was your take on Lost’s finale?
I was so pleased with it. Instead of employing some narrative device or science-fiction device or time-travel device, [the writers] humanized the whole affair and brought it back to characters and souls, and so I thought it was really a fine solution and one that I’m onboard with. And I’m especially delighted with the way they wrapped up the Benjamin Linus [story].

Do you think he was vindicated?
He became simpler and more serene, and a more sympathetic character by the end. I think the place they found for him, which was sitting like a character out of Beckett in an antechamber outside the hereafter, I thought that was just about right. Unlike the other characters, he has more to atone for and it can’t be as easy for him. It would be too easy if he got let off the hook.

He finally learned how to relinquish power.
Yes, and that’s what made this DVD extra, “The Man in Charge,” really pleasant to work on, because we got a taste of what Ben is like after he’s a changed person.

Have you seen the finished product yet?
I haven’t, but I hear that thousands of others have because somebody in their infinite wisdom leaked the thing. Of course I read the script, and I thought, Oh, it’s like a very small, sweet dessert at the end of a very long meal. I was as excited about shooting this extra as I was about shooting the finale.

Why?
Well, partly because of the novelty of it, but also because I thought it was such fun and so tasty and such a change of tone.

It is rather lighthearted.
Yeah, I think that it gives us a sense that everything was maybe more lighthearted once Hurley took over. The power of a single person’s personality can have this great ripple effect and then everything is sweeter, everyone behaves a little better and there is more light and happiness.

Do you think the writers felt they needed to fill a gap in the story?
I don’t feel like it is necessarily a missing brick from the main series. I think it is more a dessert.

Do you think it will give fans some answers to some lingering questions?
It does contain some more practical answers: “How did all that food keep arriving?” or, “What happened to so-and-so?” or, “We never got to see so-and-so in the finale, so what happened to them?” Not big answers, but some little answers.

What did you think of the negative reactions to the finale?
It surprised me a bit because a lot of people who were unhappy had been misunderstanding the show for a long time, so why were they still watching it if they’d mixed up what they were seeing? But I guess that’s the deal: It works magically for all sorts of people at all different levels of understanding.

How does it feel to be nominated for another Emmy?
It’s hard to absorb altogether that this powerful industry takes you seriously in your little role that you play and that they have suggested that you are qualified to play in the big league. My chief pleasure this year is how many categories the show is being honored in. It just seems like a nice way to go out.

Which items from the Lost auction would you like to own?
The only thing that I still think about is not listed in the auction catalogue: the wooden doll that Ben’s childhood friend Annie gave him. I don’t know whatever happened to it. The only thing I have from the show is a linen suit, a quite beautiful one that was built for me and never used for season three, but I will keep that for the rest of my life and wear it proudly.

Photo: Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images